My poor blog has become as backlogged as my games list!
The Australian financial year ends on 30 June, which means that work always picks up around May-July. Which is good for my wallet, but bad for my blog. But right now I’m going to make a bit of an effort to fix that.
Starting with Quest for Glory: So you Want to be a Hero.
Original box art, title screen and copy protection screen.
Copy protection has come a long way since 1989.
I was first introduced to this game on a friend’s Amiga, back when it was called Hero’s Quest. Foolishly they didn’t trademark the name, and it was snapped up by the other HeroQuest. Hence, the less-snappy “Quest for Glory“.
The series was very popular, with 5 games in total. The first one has two versions, the original was a 1989 EGA version with a text parser; reminiscent of the Sierra adventure games of the era (King’s Quest et al). In 1992 it got a VGA remake that ditched the text parser for a mouse interface, as made famous by Lucasarts (Monkey Island et al).
Mechanically it’s not really similar to either. It’s a unique beast, a cross between an RPG, an action game and an adventure game. Mechanically it’s closest to Bloodnet, although it plays more like a cross between Kings Quest, Ultima and Punch-Out!!
Which brings us to today’s question – what does Quest for Glory gain and lose by its genre mashing?
The set up – how, mechanically, does Quest for Glory work?
The game begins with the age-old RPG question:
Fighter, wizard or thief?
Class chosen, you then distribute your stat and skill points. Naturally, you have no way of knowing what’s a good skill distribution at this stage, though fortunately there’s few mistakes that can’t be fixed later, because skills/stats are increased with use. So you can grind up a skill/stat if you need to.
Is this build a good idea? Who knows!
Once the game starts though it feels less Ultima and more King’s Quest – your character walks around the screen, talks to NPCs, picks up and uses items, searches for clues and (naturally) dies suddenly if you make the wrong decision. The insta-deaths aren’t as bad as the Sierra ones of the era, but they can still be annoying.
This is the main body of the game. The rest is window-dressing
We’ve seen this combination once before with Bloodnet. But once you run into a monster the game changes substantially.
Yep, we’re playing Punch-Out.
I can’t think of any other series that has this unique combination of mechanics. When I first saw it in around 1989 I was fascinated – a game that had the best of everything! Playing it again in 2018 though…there’s some parts that work better than others.
Meshing genres at its best – class selection
If you ask anyone of the era what they remember of this series it will probably be the very first screen – class selection.
The meat-and-potatoes of this game is really the adventure part of the game, because that’s how the plot is advanced. This is where the game’s developer, Sierra, made its best decision with the whole series – each class has a unique set of skills, which means that each puzzle (well, most puzzles) have three distinct solutions – one for thief, one for fighter and one for wizard.
There are entire puzzles and locations that exist only for one class and not others. Thieves can visit the Thieves Guild, mages can play magic games with Erasmus, fighters can beat enemies the others can’t. Your choice of class is a genuine and significant choice, and it’s so much fun during the game to feel that decision reverberate through the rest of the game.
It encourages you to play the game three times to see all the different options – and if you do, you’ll find a more diverse experience than certain other, bigger budget games that supposedly offer you “choice”.
Not naming names. Bioware.
Mashing genres at its worst – skills/stats
The other RPG elements do not fare so well.
Throughout this game you’ll constantly be called to perform certain actions – cast spells, climb trees or fight monsters. Your chance of success, however, depends upon your current skill/stat level. Skills/stats increase through use, and by “use” I mean “grinding”.
So, for example, you realise that to solve a puzzle you “climb” over a wall. You’ve analysed the clues, you’ve realised the solution, and you type “climb wall” into the parser. Even though it’s the right answer, you won’t succeed until your “climb” skill is high enough. Every time you fail, your skill may increase slightly.
The result? You have to keep typing “climb wall” until you succeed.
Or, even weirder, you recall how I said that the combat was like Punch-Out? Well, say that you’re fighting a monster and you dodge out of the way of its attack. Your dodge won’t actually be effective unless your “dodge” score was high enough. To increase your dodge score you have to, you guessed it, dodge a lot.
These RPG elements don’t work, and they don’t help.
So design-wise, what can we learn from this?
I think the problem here was that the designers didn’t fully appreciate what “the game” was, and how the different design elements fed into it.
At heart, Quest for Glory is an adventure game; which means it’s about two things – the world, and the puzzles. I’ve waxed lyrical on this subject before. The similarity between Quest for Glory and King’s Quest is hardly surprising when you realise that both were developed and published by the same company, Sierra On-Line. The lead designer, Lori Ann Cole, would go on to be a voice actor in King’s Quest V.
The class-choice system works because its syncs with both the world building (by having different encounters and locations for each class) and the puzzles (by allowing multiple solutions). The classes enhance the core experience.
But the RPG elements? Well, think of it this way. How do you solve a puzzle? You look at the information, consider and weigh the options, then pick one and see if it works. If so, you move on. If not, try another option. Similarly, how do you build an interesting world? You keep feeding the player interesting information about the locations, the inhabitants and their actions.
Neither work by repetition. Yet RPG stat-building does exactly that – fight monster, get XP, fight monster, get XP, fight monster, lose, come back when you’ve got more XP. Note that when RPGs use straight puzzle elements (a riddle or some such) they rarely make solving it dependant upon your stats.
You don’t force a player to hear the same conversation 20 times. Similarly, when the player knows a puzzle solution, you don’t make them write it 20 times before it works.
So if there’s one design lesson here, I think it’s this – know what your game “is”, and make sure that all elements support that core. Quest for Glory “is” an adventure game. And while it was obviously tempting to throw lots other disparate elements into the mix, they only “work” to the extent that they support that core experience.
You certainly can add RPG elements into an adventure game; heck we’ve seen RPG elements added into platformers. But you need to add the elements in a way that supports the core experience. When you add RPG elements into a platformer, you don’t make the player “miss” a jump if they fail a jump-stat check.
That’s nice, but what about Quest for Glory? Does it work?
Yes. Yes it does. At the end of the day the RPG elements of Quest for Glory are minor annoyances that are more than compensated for by the superb adventure game. I should add that the combat actually works – it’s the RPG elements to the combat that detract from it.
And the core of the game, the adventure aspect, is expertly put together. The puzzles are challenging and interesting, with only one “I’m completely stuck now” moment. Despite being a generic fantasy setting, the world of Quest for Glory is a pleasure to experience. And the 3-class system greatly increases player engagement by giving your initial decision (class selection) great weight, while making it clear that no choice was the “wrong” one.
So yes, Quest for Glory is definitely recommended. But that doesn’t mean that every aspect of the game “works”.
And as a bonus you can transfer your character into Quest for Glory II! I’m looking forward to trying that one.
Release date: October 1989
Purchase date: 12 September 2014
Complete date: Approx April 2018
Platform: PC (EGA version)
Time spent: 13 hours
Developer: Sierra On-Line
Publisher: Sierra On-Line
Lead Designer: Lori Ann Cole
Recommended for: People who like adventure games, and don’t mind a touch of twitch combat. If you can’t stand a text parser, use the VGA version, although your character can’t be exported to Quest for Glory II.
Not recommended for: People who hate reading, thinking or adventure games in general.